06/26/12

A bandito land siege while waiting in paradise for a part.

BUENA VENTURA, Baja California Sur, Mexico — Time has its foot on my tail, and I can’t go anywhere. Me and the thumper.

At least within a 50-mile radius. I’m waiting for a $60 part for the intake manifold from my BMW motorcycle dealer in the States. Without it, the bike won’t hold an idle and basically dies the second I let go of the throttle because there’s no or very little air making it to the engine. Indeed, suffocation sucks. I realized it was going to take a while and was prepared for five to seven days, according to the dealer, not 12 to 14.

The more infuriating part is the bike currently runs, and I still have to wait. I was fortunate enough to run into a talented mechanic, and he had the problem diagnosed and cured, insofar as the bike running, before I even showed up to the garage the next morning. He patched up the broken part with JB Weld, reinstalled it into my bike, and that’s how I’ve been riding it for the last almost two weeks, four of those nights in Hotel Mulege (a nice air-conditioned room), four nights tent camping on Playa Santispac, and the last five here at Playa Buena Ventura about 30 miles south of Mulege. I’ve now upgraded my digs to a camper. I suppose I could have chanced it and ventured off with the mended part instead of a new one. But…peace of mind in your machine, especially when it’s your home, is important.

The terrain around here is jaggity as hell. Like giant piles of every-size rocks, from silt-like sand to boulders of every size and texture, dropped from an enormous dump truck in the sky. One hundred foot cliffs around-the-next-corner unforgiving. Then there’s the heat. Somewhere between 105-115 of muy caliente. There’s a thermometer, but I’ve stopped looking. I seem to handle it better when I don’t know how hot it is.

Right now, I’m completely alone in this restaurant except for Bertha, who cooks me meals. I use the WiFi and drink waters and Tecates all day. Usually I’ll go into the water once a day, but thanks to three failing pairs of leather sandals I bought from a Mexican-run shop in Mulege, both feet have a few blisters on the mend, and it stings in the salt. I still go in though…with my fourth pair of sandals…these from an American-run store, a comfy pair of Reef-like flip-flops . I also scratched the bottom of my big toe on a barnicle whilst towing my kayak back to shore after tipping over multiple times. Clearly I don’t know what I’m doing because I took the two-man kayak (figured longer was better for a guy my size) instead one of the many one-mans. The surf was getting heavier and it became difficult to control from my rear seat, so I got out and pushed.

Hey, at least I got a good workout, and Mark, Olivia, Nathan, and Savannah got a funny show. They’re the family that owns and runs this little nook in paradise. Mark and Olivia are in their late 40’s/50’s. Nathan, 21, is their son, Savannah, 19, their niece/cousin.

Paradise for these four–Mark and Olivia especially–has come at a price. They’re hopefully near the end of a 10-year land war with this bandito named Rafael Munoz, whose henchman have been coming around the property attempting to take it by force. By force! I kid you not. Guns firing off like cowboys chasing off Indians in the Wild West type of stuff. Only replace horses with the banditos’ red pick-up truck. I have to give Mark credit for keeping his wits under pressure…he snapped a picture of a gun pointed in his face! That was just one of the nights the couple was under siege earlier this year. Munoz’ thugs wouldn’t let them leave for days at a time.

The epic bout has spilled over into the courts, as well, but it’s interesting to see how matters get settled with a little extra O.K. Corral in Mexico. First, Mark was asked to pay the local cops money for gas to come all the way out to his beach to address the situation. Umm, never heard of it working that way. In any country, third-world or not. Then, the cops apparently got a little jilted when Mark asked them to remove the banditos from his driveway. The cops did nothing, and instead acted like immature brats! Brats I tell you! When Mark brought a U.S. Consulate Officer into the mix, the locals complained that Mark didn’t respect them and asked him to apologize.

Huh?

Whether he did or didn’t respect them, the word in Mexico is that local cops are the most corrupt. Mexicans and tourists alike routinely drop 200-peso notes on them to stay out of jail for ridiculous reasons like towing a trailer that is “too big” (true story!) The cops get their pesos and they magically change their tune. Hilarious! Until it happens to me.

It’s a good thing the Mexican justice system has been treating Mark and Olivia a bit better. In the end, there’s a good chance Mr. Munoz will be in jail for his alleged crimes throughout all this…from home invasion and attempted murder to forgery and other “paper” crimes in this multi-front conflict.

It’s been fun hanging with this crew, but now they’re gone, and I’m forced to practice my Spanish with Bertha. Which isn’t bad at all. She’s such a sweet lady. Funny, too. But it’s not like I’m at the level with my Spanish where I can engage in any kind of meaningful small talk beyond the basic stuff, which we’ve already covered.

Time, go ahead. Inflict your will on me. I’ll have a margarita, a Tecate, two pina coladas and forget you’re even here.

06/18/12

Alone and mending melted parts.

MULEGE, Baja California Sur, Mexico – I’m alone out here and at the mercy of my environment and the people in it. Seems obvious, and of course, understanding that little tidbit is part of the pre-trip reading list. Experiencing it though? Not really prepared for that.

Here, I establish relationships with people and then I move on. It’s almost cruel to everyone involved. It’s weird. In Ensenada, this girl, with whom I spent a whole day riding around the northern coast of Baja, said to me, “You’re happy here.”

And I was on a surface level, but I knew it was temporary. And in that respect, when you know the expiration date on things, you sometimes can’t enjoy them.

It’s those things that make you happy, which you think are going to go on forever and it be exactly the same, and you be exactly the same, and nothing gets fucked up…it’s those things that really get you when they end.

Back to her comment. It took me aback. But then I realized she was right. I was happy. And for me, if I believed life was all about attaining happiness, maybe I would have stuck around a while longer. But I guess it’s not for me. Is it? Is that the only logical conclusion? Maybe I just knew I wouldn’t be happy forever, and that, of course, is what everyone wants.

What is it about for me?

I feel like it’s a cliché to say that I’m going to find out on this trip. I don’t really believe that, and maybe that’s pride on my part. Maybe I just need to succumb to the ebbs and flows of existence on the road like a surfboard. But I have standards and rules to which I adhere. They’re important, I feel, in helping me remain who I am in the face of all that constantly changes.

The funny thing is…I know that’s wishful thinking. I know this trip is going to change me. I just don’t know how.

I have this thing that I do sometimes when I’m not sure what to do: I laugh. You could call it a nervous reaction. Nervous laughter. On occasion, I’ve recorded myself for one reason or another doing it, and, lemme tell you…I hate what it sounds like.

Maybe that will change. No more nervous laughter because I’ve completed a ring around the earth on a motorcycle. Deal? Deal.

I got some disappointing news today that one of my articles was not accepted for publication. I’m completely rewriting it and will likely re-submit it. I don’t know if that goes against accepted practice with this publication, and I don’t care. Better to ask for forgiveness than permission, though. That little standard has proven itself valid numerous times in my life and others’. Canonize that bitch.

Me and my new best friend Alejandro. His cousin owns the garage my bike’s gonna get fixed at. My first night in Mulege, he and I went out for a beer, which turned into a whole bottle of tequila (via margaritas) and many cervezas. I haven’t hung out with him too much since then, but he’s a good cat. As is the rest of the guys at that garage.

Add disappointing news to a bout of boredom, and you’ve got a mildly depressed Adam Barone. Oh, and I’m stuck here, waiting for a part to arrive for my motorcycle. It was broken down completely, but the Mexican mechanic that tore my bike down and diagnosed the issue as a compromised section of the intake manifold…well…a compromised intake manifold and JB Weld can be a beautiful combination in the right hands.

The bike is actually running like hot butter right now…the best it’s been since Boston. Yet, I still need to wait for and install this part. The puttied up version that’s in my bike now could last a long time, but then again, maybe not.

The part was supposed to be here tomorrow, but I doubt that’s going to happen. Nevertheless, I’m leaving this hotel room. I can’t stay another night here even though it’s comfy and air-conditioned. Bed could be better, but hey…it’s less than 30 bucks a night. I get clean towels and sheets everyday. No complaining.

Nevertheless, after being plugged back in 24/7 for the last 5 days or so, I’m looking forward to unplugging for at least three. Maybe more. My way is due south from here, and there’s lots of opportunity for camping on the beaches of the Sea of Cortez (otherwise known as the Gulf of California). I plan to take advantage of that.

My destination is La Paz, Mexico. I’m not sure how long I’m going to be there. I’m due to meet up with this Russian guy, who went to Boston University for seven years studying philosophy. I found him on Couchsurfing.org. We actually used to live in the same general part of Boston. He left on his motorcycle to go around the world about a year ago, but didn’t make it out of the United States and Canada until just recently.

Yeah, it’ll be my second go around with that site, Couchsurfing. I had a good experience in the Black Hills. Hopefully, this next one will make two.

 

 

I love riding in shirt sleeves in the heat.

06/13/12

Howling at Coyote’s

ERENDIRA, Baja California, Mexico – Big surprise: I’m having the time of my life. On a motorcycle trip around the world, you’ll get that I suppose.

Pacific in Baja

Baja is where the desert meets the ocean.

It’s night time right now, and I’m laying in my bed with my screenless window open to the Pacific. I’ve literally been falling asleep to the sounds of waves crashing for the last week here in Erendira…save the last two nights when I made an unexpected trip back to Ensenada, where I’d been for a week to cover the Baja 500, to hang out with my new friend Jose (name changed to protect the guilty) and his crew of deported “chicanos” and “chicanas,”—Mexicans who’ve had a significant amount of time in the United States—enough to influence their personality and language skills. They had been legal aliens until they got themselves in trouble with the law for selling drugs.

My main goal in stopping here for a week was to work on the two articles for which I’ve completed the reporting and research, but not the actual writing. One is about the Crazy Horse Memorial in South Dakota, for which I only recently received responses back to some key questions. And the second is a piece about the Baja 500 desert race, which I just attended.

Aside from the staff of Coyote Cal’s Hostel, I’ve been one of only a handful of guests here. There was a time when this hostel was constantly buzzing with 50+ backpackers and other traveler and adventure types on any given night, but it hasn’t been like that for the last seven years or so, says Rick, the proprietor. Media reports of drug cartel violence throughout Mexico have effectively scared away all but the most adventurous, very few of which seem to be American. With over two weeks in the books here in Mexico, I haven’t encountered anything approaching that kind of danger. That’s not to say it’s not out there, but the cartels have an agenda with their violence, and messing with travelers or ordinary citizens isn’t part of it. Not that I’ve seen or heard of, anyway.

I should know. The crew I hung with the last two days is either part of a cartel or they work for them as “contractors.” I guess I don’t fit in with the typical stereotype of the American tourist—that is of someone who just got off a cruise ship to get a “Mexican” experience in port. They’re usually wearing some combination of a giant obnoxious sombrero, which they bought as soon as they got off the ship, sandals/flip-flops often with white socks, giant Nikon or Canon camera slung around their neck with a camera bag hanging off their shoulder containing a grab bag of lenses and other gear they wouldn’t need if they were a pro on an African safari, searching for el grande purple spotted elephant-tiger for National Geographic. There was a time when that was me, so I’m allowed to poke fun.

A bunch of the dirt roads around Coyote Cals were on the Baja 500 course and chewed up pretty good. In turn, those roads chewed me up pretty good.

Really though, these were good people despite their occupations. Each of them had paid a sacrifice for doing what they’re doing, but it didn’t seem to stop them. One of the girls, a 27-year-old, has four children back in the States, whom she rarely gets to see. It’s not like they want to be doing something they have to sweat about every time they get stopped at a police or military checkpoint, which are everywhere, but they do what they must to get by. There’s no welfare state or social safety net, so it’s very much a hustle-or-don’t-eat scenario for many, including my new friends.

They would have had plenty of opportunity to take my stuff or otherwise take advantage of me, but they were more interested in hearing about what I’m doing…and in many cases, showering me with story ideas for future articles!

One chica even spent over an hour giving me a haircut…a scissor cut, which in Boston, you might pay upwards of $60 for. She wasn’t going to take any money, but I insisted on giving her something. Turns out a $50 peso note is usually more than the average price for a haircut, which works out to about $4 American. I meant to give her $100, but we got separated, and I left Ensenada for the last time on this trip a few hours later.

“Rosalita,” if you’re reading this, advertise, ‘Men’s Scissor Cuts $19’ when you open your salon. You’ll build an empire.

My room was in the main building in the left of this photo.

There’s no place in the world I’ve been quite like Baja—places where the desert meets the ocean. The weather has been sublime, and when I haven’t been writing or chilling with my new friends, I’ve had all kinds of cool stuff to do—my favorite being jumping on my bike stripped of the extra weight of my around-the-world luggage and testing my offroad abilities on the impressive network of dirt roads and paths, many within view of the ocean.

This adventure is still in its infancy, but suffice to say, I feel right at home on the road. I do believe I could make a career of this and not get homesick. Adam Barone, travel journalist? Maybe. We shall see.

The deserts have been a whole new landscape for me on this trip. Pretty sweet!

I’m anticipating encountering one of those situations for which I’m ill-prepared. I’m wondering when the day will come that somebody will mess with my bike or me. I was right in my thinking that there are easier targets. I was stopped at a military checkpoint the other day not 300 yards away from where I’m staying. The Mexican military dudes were pretty impressed by my bike. One asked me to give it to him to which I replied with a gigantic belly laugh and a pat on his back. “No, amigo. La moto esta mi casa. Todos la mundo. (The motorcycle is my home. Around the world.)” When I said that, he seemed to gain some degree of respect for me. Enough for the rest of the encounter to be lighthearted and jovial anyway. Hey, when anyone, military or not, is carrying an automatic weapon, is prepared to use it if necessary, and you don’t and aren’t…all you can do is laugh, right?

Mucho mas tequila!

Esta bien. When I leave here on Sunday, my plan is to make my way down the Pacific coast of Baja…dirt roads the entire way to the town on the border Baja California Sur (South Baja). It will be the first time I fill up my collapsible fuel bladder, which will give me just over seven gallons of fuel capacity, which is good for about 350 miles or so. Plenty, I think.

And plenty of adventure left to go.